Friday, February 22, 2008

Do I Still Have Bed Bugs?

I felt the urge to respond to this anonymous commenter who inquired:

Hey, are you actually living with bed bugs? I mean, are you doing anything to keep them from, like, taking over your place 'cause I read that they multiply very quickly. And, what about you and M's body and face? Don't you guys get a lotta bites from these suckers?

Respond when you can. Thanks
Well, anonymous commenter,

First off, thanks for keeping up with the ongoing saga between M and I. To be honest I've been deliberately vague about the actual current status of our bed bug situation, mostly because more and more people are becoming aware of this blog, and my other blog in which I am not so anonymous. What's more, M also has her own blog in an effort to promote her cooking career and we're being invited to more and more public events, and quite frankly, I don't want anyone to think we're cooking with bed bugs in the food or our home is overrun with bed bugs or we're walking around with some whacky "bed bug disease". You'd be surprised how many people still think that bed bugs carry disease.

To answer your question, do we actually have bed bugs? Yes and no. We still have them, but we're not actually suffering from them anymore, and we've kept them under control. We see maybe two or three bed bugs a month, and rarely are they still alive. I don't get bitten anymore, but M does, which makes me believe that females are more susceptible than males to bed bugs. Even then, the bites are just as rare as bed bug sightings.

But this peaceful scenario did not occur overnight. Yes, my apartment was once overrun with bed bugs, to the point where I was sleeping on the floor with the lights on and hatchlings were being born by the thousands only inches from my sleeping head. To wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing you see is scores and scores of tiny brown bed bug eggs and babies just inches from your retina is worse than any nightmare you've ever had. It's an image you never really forget, and I always remind myself of that image whenever I feel like slacking off from keeping my home clean.

I had a lot of wooden furniture, which served as the perfect haven for colonies upon colonies of bed bugs. I've had to throw out almost all of my furniture and replace it with plastic and steel furniture, which was not easy since I was broke and had to spend a few months in a relatively empty living space until new non-wooden furniture entered my home piece by piece. In short, I had to go through a dramatic lifestyle change in order to rid my home of bed bugs. And even then, the eradication is never 100%. No exterminator can guarantee 100% bed bug annihilation, which didn't matter to me anyway since I couldn't afford one. Most exterminators highly recommend their bed bug-infested clientele take the same drastic steps I've taken. Also, I don't like the idea of unknown chemicals (especially industrial-strength chemicals which are illegal for non-exterminators to purchase) being sprayed in a space in which I eat and sleep.

As I've discussed before, I use an eco-friendly approach to killing roaches (because roach sprays and foggers causes bed bugs to scatter and hide, making it harder to kill them all) and I advise people to do the same with bed bugs. The most eco-friendly method I've found of getting rid of bed bugs is to simply get rid of your wooden furniture (if you have a full-blown infestation, chances are good that you will find small colonies of bed bugs already living in your furniture). The other step is to replace that wooden furniture with furniture made of plastic or metal. The other step is to adopt a lifestyle of serious routine cleaning. I mean, cleaning your home has to become like a religion for you if you want to get rid of bed bugs. That includes clutter. Throw away any old newspapers or magazines you may have lying around. Store your books in plastic food containers. It may look weird to have shelves full of books sealed in Tupperware but a full-blown bed bug infestation and a body full of bug bites look even worse. M and I have a financial goal of making enough money that we can someday hire someone to do all the routine cleaning.

Everyone tells me to tell my landlord to take care of the problem or to call 311 or to sue my landlord, but this is wayyyy easier said than done, especially when the assholes giving me all this helpful advice don't actually have to do any of this themselves. As I had discussed in earlier posts, holding landlords responsible for a bed bug infestation can be tricky, and if the landlord has a lawyer and you don't (which is my case) they can convince the city that not only are they not responsible for your infestation, but that you may be held liable for introducing bed bugs onto the property. It's also difficult to expect the government to do anything about a bed bug infestation because bed bugs do not carry disease and therefore do not pose any kind of public health threat. However, you can argue that a bed bug infestation and their biting can cause mental anguish, but this is obviously much harder to prove than a physical injury.
I simply don't have the time or money to travel to and from court over and over, fill out forms, take photos of my apartment, etc. What's more, the landlord may retaliate by trying to find you in violation of your lease. And in New York City, the hometown of over-regulation, some leases have so many terms most tenants are unknowingly in violation of them in some tiny superficial way.

As for multiplying quickly, bed bugs can lay about 500 eggs in their lifetime. And those 500 bed bugs, upon reaching adulthood can each lay their own 500 eggs. So yeah, they can multiply quickly in a very short time.

I hope I answered your questions. For more details on my personal bed bug experience, I suggest you browse the rest of this blog.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lavender Oil?

Could something as simple and common as lavender oil help ward off bed bugs while you sleep? I've heard stranger things. An article from last July in the First Post, a British online magazine included a personal testimony from a Briton who encountered bed bugs while on holiday in Germany and recommended lavender oil spray, although he didn't specify whether to spray it on yourself or in your room or bed.

Don't think that booking into a five-star hotel will offer you protection. Earlier this year, a US lawyer sued a luxury hotel in London after he and his wife had been badly bitten. A better - and cheaper - alternative is never to go anywhere without a lavender oil spray: apparently, it's the one thing the little bastards can't stand.-unknown bloke
How did this guy know to use lavender spray? Was this discovery simply the result of dumb luck, as was the case with the invention of the microwave ovens and silly putty? Perhaps his wife was burning lavender oil candles (you know how women love that aromatherapy stuff) from an oil lamp or something and they noticed how the bed bugs in their hotel room reacted to the scent. It has been well documented that bed bugs can smell each other's pheromones, fecal matter and even dried human blood; they very well could have smelled the lavender oil as well.

I will try burning lavender oil in my own oil lamp (it's actually M's oil lamp) to see exactly how well this works. However, I don't have nearly as many bed bugs as I used to (I see maybe one or two live ones a month these days) so if anyone else could conduct this little experiment in their own bed bug-infested homes and share the findings with the rest of the class, I would very much appreciate it.

By the way, I did receive my new mattress from Sleepy's the day after ordering it, and to my surprise I did not have to wrap it in a plastic drop cloth. The mattress came sealed (with a small air pocket, unfortunately) in a tough plastic whose durability is similar if not superior to that of a plastic drop cloth. They really are the mattress professionals! However, I do remember the salesman telling me that all mattresses sold by Sleepy's have a 10-year warranty; I suspect that 10-year warranty is considered void if that protective plastic seal is broken.

I really did like the inflatable mattresses, but it's much nicer to have worry-free sex on a conventional mattress secure in the knowledge that the mattress won't spring a leak and break down.

Happy Valentine's Day, by the way!